Wild Turkeys

Meleagris gallopavo silvestris

Wild turkey in Humboldt County, California. April 2000.

Turkey track. Drawing by Kim A. Cabrera
Size: 3.5 to 4.5 inches long
3.75 to 4.25 inches wide

Turkey trail pattern. Drawing by Kim A. Cabrera.
Stride: 8 to 14 in.
depending on speed

Wild Turkey, Track, and Trail Pattern

Click here to hear a turkey gobble. (36K WAV)
Video of a turkey gobbling (3.31 MB AVI format)
Turkeys will gobble in response to noises in their environment during their mating season.
The turkey in the video above was gobbling because I had clapped my hands.
The response is called "shock gobbling" and it can help you locate turkeys in the field.

 

Natural History of Wild Turkeys

 

Two wild turkeys. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

Wild turkeys are native to the southeastern United States. They have been introduced in many parts of the west, including California. They prefer oak woodlands, but are found in grasslands and pine forests as well.

They are swift runners and are wary of people. However, I have found them to be bold when they know there is food around. Turkeys have approached quite close to me when I am putting out food for other birds at feeders.

Turkeys are polygamous. The male struts with his tail fanned to attract a harem. He fluffs up his feathers and drags his wing tips along the ground. This makes him look bigger. See photos below.  You can often find the tracks made by the dragging wingtips.

Where they naturally occur, wild turkeys were used by Native Americans as food. The turkey was almost chosen as the national bird of the USA.

Wild turkeys do have the ability to fly. They are rather large and clumsy in flight, but are capable of it. I have seen turkeys wade a river rather than fly across, however. Perhaps it uses so much energy that they prefer to conserve rather than fly when they could just as well walk. (Or wade, in this case.)

Turkeys lay eight to ten buff-colored eggs with brown spots. Eggs are laid in a shallow depression in the ground, lined with grass and leaves. I have found these nests in tall grass in spring. The typical call is a gobble, although turkeys use other calls as well.

 

 

This wild turkey track shows the detail of the pattern on the toes very well. The pebbly texture of the toes is similar to that found on porcupine and raven tracks. It is hard to see unless you find the track in good mud or fine soil. Three toes point forward. The round imprint where the three toes come together does not always show in the tracks. This is the metatarsal pad. Claw marks are visible on several toes in this picture. Turkeys have a fourth toe, which faces backward. But this does not always show in the tracks because they don't always place the foot entirely flat on the ground. Sometimes there will be a mark from the claw.

wild turkey track on top of raven track. Photo copyright by Kim A . Cabrera 2008.

Perfect wild turkey track on top of the left track of a raven. This fine dusty soil is great for tracking!

 
Adult and juvenile turkey tracks. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Adult and juvenile turkey tracks in dust. These tracks were found in July, when the young turkeys are less than half the size of the adults. The babies grow quickly, however.

 
turkey tracks in river sand. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Several sets of wild turkey tracks in the sand next to the Eel River. There is also one clear raven track, in the upper left mid-corner.

 
flying turkey. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

This turkey flew across the river after some of its companions did the same. It did not seem to be bothered by the human standing on the opposite river bank. It flew onto the bluff behind me and followed the other turkeys into the brush. They come down to the river to drink each evening before they retire to their evening roost in tall fir trees, far out of reach of predators.

 
Tom turkey. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.
Tom turkey showing his fan of feathers in bright sunlight.
 
Resting turkey hen. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.
A turkey hen resting on a paved roadside.
 
Scat of a young wild turkey. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

This small turkey scat was left by a very young bird. It was found in July. The chicks hatch beginning in June.

 

These holes in the ground were made by turkeys sticking their beaks into it to find something to eat.

 
wild turkey track photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

Another turkey track, in softer sandy soil.

 
Wild turkey wing drag marks made by a tom during the mating dance. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

The marks above were made by the wings of a wild tom turkey. During the mating season, the toms strut with their tail feathers fanned and their wings dragging on the ground. This produces the marks.

 
Wild turkey wing drag marks made by a tom during the mating dance. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A tom turkey dragging the tips of his wings during the mating dance made these drag marks on the ground. These tracks show a turn. The toms often make abrupt turns while performing the mating dance.

 

 

Wild turkey gobbler identifiers. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2007. Wild turkey hen identifiers. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.
How to identify wild turkey gobblers (males) and hens (females)

The male turkey has a more colorful head and darker plumage. He also has a spur on each leg and a "beard" of feathers on the chest. Young gobblers may not have the spur and beard yet. These youngsters are called "jakes."

The female turkey has a more subtly colored head. She is able to hide better due to this natural camouflage. It is useful when she is sitting on her nest and needs to be concealed from predators.

 

 

Wild turkey track in mud. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

This wild turkey track shows the fine details of the foot. Nice, clear mud like this is ideal for tracking. This is the right foot. If you look closely, you will see the imprint of the hind toe, or hallux. The small indentation is from the nail on this toe. There is also a small, round imprint from the pad in the center of the foot. If this were the left track, the hallux imprint would be on the right side of the track, as it faces inward.
 
Wild turkey track. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.
Here is a turkey track showing its size. The ruler provides scale. When photographing tracks, it is a good idea to include some object that is easy to recognize as a scale. A ruler or tape measure is ideal, but you can use pennies, pens, or other objects whose measurements you can easily obtain. Straight-edged objects are best though.
   

Turkey trail in mud. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

Wild turkey tracks in a typical trail pattern. This perfect mud held nice, detailed tracks.
 
Wild turkey track in coarse river sand. All details are visible in this track, including the hallux.

wild turkey track. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007

 
 
Turkey track in river mud. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Turkey track in fine river mud. Penny for scale is 3/4 inches across.
 
Turkey track in firm mud. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
A nearly perfect turkey track in firm mud.
 
Turkey track in soft mud.  Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
A turkey track in fine mud along a river. The hallux shows up too.
 
Turkeys resting at the base of a pine.  Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Two turkeys resting under a pine tree on a hillside.
 
Turkeys resting under a tree during the day.  Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Several turkeys resting under an oak tree during the day. Turkeys feed during the day and take breaks to rest in places where they can watch their surroundings.

 

Turkey on a rock.  Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

This tom turkey was on top of a rock.
 

Turkey in afternoon sunlight. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A tom turkey in the afternoon.
 
 

Wild turkey pair. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007

Pair of tom turkeys displaying their fans.

 

Pair of turkeys. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera. 2007.

Pair of tom turkeys displaying their fans.

 

Wild turkey formless scat. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007

Baby wild turkey scat. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007

This formless scat from a young wild turkey shows how diet can change the appearance of the scats. Scats normally look tubular. This tiny scat was from a baby wild turkey less than a week old.

Wild turkey scat. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A wild turkey scat.

 
 

Wild turkey scat containing grass seeds. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Wild turkey scat in early summer. This scat contains grass seeds, which the turkeys frequently feed on this time of year.

   

Wild turkey scat. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2006.

Wild turkey scat. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2006.

Wild turkey scats of different ages and sizes. In late summer, you will find the scats of the young turkeys too.

   

Three herbivore scats side-by-side for comparison. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

The three different scats on the left are provided to compare between different herbivore species. Deer scats are more oblong than those of rabbits. Turkeys are more tubular and larger than the others. All are composed of similar material.
   
A formless scat from a wild turkey. This one was due to diet. More moisture in the diet can change the normal consistency of scats.

Turkey scat. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

   

small turkey scat composed of blackberries.  Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Wild turkey scat composed of blackberry parts and seeds. This is what gives it the purple color. This is a small scat because it came from a young chick. It was found in July when the babies are about a month old.
   

Tom turkey gobbler showing his fan of feathers. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

turkey hens and toms on a rock.  Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Tom turkey showing his handsome fan of feathers.

A group of hens and toms gather in a rock outcrop.

   

turkey track in mud. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Wild turkey track in soft mud. Notice the clarity of the pattern on the bottom of the foot.
   

Right track of a wild turkey. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A nice, clear right track from a wild turkey. The tiny backward-facing toe is called the hallux. It does not always show up in the tracks. In the photos of turkey feet on this page, you can see what the hallux looks like.
   

Wild turkey night roost in a Douglas fir tree. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2007. Do not use without permission.

Where do turkeys go at night? They commonly roost in trees like this old Douglas fir. This gets them up off the ground, where they are more vulnerable to predators. High up in a tree, the turkeys can safely sleep the night away, knowing few predators can climb after them.

 
Wild turkey in a tree roost. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2005.

Wild turkey in a tree roost. This fir tree was over 100 feet tall. The branches easily supported the weight of the turkey.

 
Turkey scratch marks. Feeding sign. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

These scratch marks were made by turkey feet. The birds were scratching on the ground in a search for food. Insects and seeds are found this way. This photo was taken in late summer in a drought year.

 
Tom turkey foot. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2007. Wild turkey foot. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2006.
The foot of a tom turkey. The males have the extra claw located high up on the leg. It is called a spur. They use this for fighting. The hind toe is called the hallux.
   
Gobbler with snood extended. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera. 2007 A gobbler gobbling. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera. 2007

This gobbler has his snood extended. The snood can lengthen and shorten in seconds.

A gobbler gobbling. The bright red color is often seen during the mating season when it serves to attract a mate. The major caruncles also get bigger.

 
Three Tom turkey gobblers on a hillside. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera. 2007
These three gobblers paused on a grassy hillside to watch a group of hens nearby.
 
Two turkey gobblers visit the Eel River for a drink. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera. 2007
A pair of Tom turkeys visiting the Eel River for a drink. Just before dusk, the turkeys go to the river and get a drink. Then they go up the hill to their favorite roost trees, where they spend the night, high out of the reach of predators.
 
Two turkey feathers. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera. 2007
Two types of turkey feathers.
 
Wild turkey track from right foot. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2006.
A very clear wild turkey track in mud. The details of the foot structure are easy to see.
The small, backward-facing toe, known as the hallux, is also visible.
 
Formless wild turkey scat. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2005.
A small, formless turkey scat. The consistency of scat is due primarily to the animal's diet.
 
Wild turkey track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.
Left wild turkey track in sand.
 
Wild turkey track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.
A nice perfect wild turkey track in river sand. Left foot.
 
Wild turkey track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.
The right track of a wild turkey in river sand.
 
 
wild turkey right track in dust
A deep track in dust. This is the right track of a wild turkey.
 
right track of a wild turkey
This fine turkey track is from the right foot. In the upper right corner, there is a track left by a California quail.
 
wild turkey track in dust
Beautiful turkey track in the fine dust at the edge of a dirt road in summer.
 
 
resting turkey
A turkey resting in the afternoon sun
 
 
turkey and quail tracks
Turkey track at the top and a smaller California quail track lower left
 
 
large turkey scat
One of the biggest turkey scats I have seen!
 
 
huge turkey scat
The big turkey scat on the left compared to a normal-sized one on the right!
 

 

Personal Notes on Wild Turkeys

Junior, the cat, watches a turkey feeding in the grass. Moments later, he decided to try and catch it. The end result was - the turkey ran one way, squawking, and Junior ran the other! He won't try that again. I have seen wild turkeys frequently. When I attended a recent tracking class at Henry W. Coe State Park in California, I camped in the park. The wild turkeys would call every morning and we would see them walking right by the campground. The males fan their feathers and call to the females. On the property I caretake, turkeys are sometimes seen in the trees and all over the grassy areas. I often hear them call from the tops of trees. For such a large bird, they can be difficult to see through the foliage. My cats watch the turkeys in fascination. Obviously the biggest bird they've ever seen!
   
Wild turkeys live in my area and very frequently visit my home. I have a bird feeder where I feed small birds. However, once the turkeys learned about it, they became regular visitors too. I try to feed them away from the smaller birds because turkeys eat so much of the seed. Their favorite food is cracked corn, which also seems to be preferred by quail.
 

Turkey foot showing spur. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

 
 

Here are some pictures of the turkeys that live in my "back yard."

 

 

Find wild turkey posters, greeting cards, t-shirts, hats, and more in my new store.

Visit Beartracker's Nature Store online store at: www.dirt-time.com   Happy tracking!!

What else can you find in the nature store? Beartracker's animal tracks coloring book, T-shirts, sweatshirts, journals, book bags, toddler and infant apparel, mouse pads, posters, postcards, coffee mugs, travel mugs, clocks, Frisbees, bumper stickers, hats, stickers, and many more items. All with tracks or paw  prints, or nature scenes. Custom products are available. If you don't see the track you want on the product you want, email me and I can probably create it. Proceeds from all sales go to pay the monthly fees for this web site. You can help support this site as well as get great tracking products! Thank you!

 

Find other tracking products: www.zazzle.com/tracker8459*

 

Also visit these fine stores for more products of interest:

NDN Pride shop - For Indian Pride items for all tribes. Custom items available on request.

ASL Signs of Love - For anyone who uses or is learning ASL, American Sign Language. Custom name items and more are available here.

Get Every Child Outdoors (Get E.C.O.) - My shop dedicated to nature and getting kids interested in nature and the outdoors.

Sales from all stores give commissions to Beartracker's Animal Tracks Den, which helps keep this site online as a free service. We are celebrating ten years online this year!

 

 

If you wish to help keep this site online, donations are accepted through PayPal.
Beartracker's Animal Tracks Den is provided as a free service, but your
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If you do not wish to donate, we do have a store where you can purchase
custom tracking items.
Thank you and happy tracking!

 

 

 

 

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tracker777@hotmail.com Happy jumper

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Copyright 1997, 2012, 2013. Text, photos, and drawings by Kim A. Cabrera.
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Copyright 1997, 2013. Kim A. Cabrera - Desert Moon Design

Page last updated: January 25, 2013.

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